Every year in the two days between Good Friday and Easter, I take a serious look at the question of God. Who would I be in a world without God? Or, more to the point, who would I be if God were dead? It is, perhaps, unorthodox, but I think it can be useful. What would be different about my life?
Here I need to make a brief digression. I have come to think of God in two ways. First, there is the God of philosophy, the unmoved mover and sustainer of the universe. I see that God as a fundamental cosmological assertion, a way of looking at the universe. That God answers the question, “why something instead of nothing?” It makes no sense (to me) to speak of myself without this God. It makes no sense to speak of anything. I regularly ask whether this works as a philosophical system, so am not particularly interested in it here. Second, there is the narrative God of the Old and New Testament, the personal God of Israel and, for Christians, Jesus of Nazareth. Today I want to talk about the narrative God. What does it mean to say Jesus is dead? I might even question whether he existed at all. How would I be a different person?
In a very important way, I would not be different. When it comes to the choices I make, how I treat people, what I value, I don’t know that I would change at all. Christianity has helped shape these things. My relationship with God, with whom I talk daily, has helped me become who I am. And yet, I am not that person for the sake of God. I am that person because that is the person I choose to be. These are the things I value and I would continue to value them even If I no longer had God to talk to.
I think God has told me something true in sharing faith, hope, and love. I respect the one who told me; that respect made it easier to learn and the learning increased my respect. And yet, should I discover God was not what I thought, I would still have this thing I discovered. I would still have love. Everything I know, I learned from teachers, many of whom I respect deeply, but that respect never stops me from disagreeing with them. I would not stop using evolutionary biology if my doctoral advisor (in evolutionary biology) decided to stop using it. I did not stop doing Hapkido (Korean martial art) when my teacher died, nor would I have stopped if he had stopped while he was still alive. [For the record the thought of David Haig dismissing evolution or Kwang Sik Myung giving up on Hapkido sounds thoroughly ridiculous to me. Of course, so does God dying. So maybe it’s worth considering.]
This year, as every year, I have come to the conclusion that my life would change very little. I might no longer hold the same positions philosophically. I might no longer advocate for an unmoved mover. I might no longer belong to the Episcopal Church, but most things would not change. I would still count the well-being of others as equal to my own. I would still work for communities to love one another, to reason and work together. I would still study the wonders of the world and work to build institutions that explore, preserve, and serve them.
Would I still love God? Mostly I love God through loving my neighbor. The worst abuses of Christianity, as far as I can tell are those times when, somehow, love of God and neighbor are opposed. The Bible seems pretty clear that they always go together – though I admit others read it differently. That leaves only prayer and worship. I think I would still shout into the darkness, even if I thought nothing was there to talk back. [It’s not as though I always hear a clear answer anyway.] I would still listen – for listening is always rewarded. I might “worship” less. I do not know. Worship makes me feel good. It binds me to others. It orients me.
I would not be a priest. I would not lie to people and say I believed something when I didn’t. I would still be an elder, a community builder, and a counselor. I would still welcome, listen, empower, gather, bind together, and remember whenever I could. I have no doubt I would find a way to be a priest in some fashion or another, even if I were not a Presbyter of the Episcopal Church.
In the last few hours before Easter – I go to sunrise service – I find that my life would not be that different. If I died and found myself confronted with Anubis sitting with a pair of scales (Egyptian judgment), I would tell him a story about a carpenter from Nazareth. I would tell the good news of love. I couldn’t deny reality, but I could still work good in the world – whatever world it is.
On Easter, I will rejoice that the Lord of Love is also the Lord of Life, the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of the cosmos. I will rejoice that God’s love overcame human strife. I will consider anew the lesson that even death can be forgiven. But I will not change my priorities. True faith is the faith that continues to love and work through the darkness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. True faith means loving what Jesus loved and doing the work Jesus gave us to do, even if he is dead; I’ve always been suspicious of those who think otherwise. Christianity is not about being on the winning side. It’s about being on Jesus’ side, even when he loses.
Only in this way, does the winning really change the world.